June 2, 2020 / 5:26 PM / a month ago

UK lawmakers 'conga' round parliament to cast their votes

LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of British lawmakers spent over an hour in enormous queues through the imposing corridors and halls of the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday, casting their first ever socially-distanced votes.

FILE PHOTO: A rainbow is seen behind the Big Ben clock tower, at the Houses of Parliament in central London, Britain, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

The government has ditched the coronavirus-induced measures introduced in April and May that tore up centuries of tradition by allowing remote voting and debates by video conference.

On Tuesday, lawmakers were required to attend in person and join a queue, spaced two metres apart, that stretched out of the wood-panelled debating chamber, zigzagged through an 11th-century hall where monarchs and prime ministers have lain in state, and outside into a tree-lined courtyard.

They voted 261-163 in favour of the government’s plan to end the so-called hybrid parliament and restore a system that requires all those who wish to vote to attend in person.

“Voting while enjoying a sunny walk or whilst watching television does democracy an injustice... We ask members to vote in person for a reason: because it is the heart of what parliament is about,” House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

Unless a better method can be found, every vote will now involve the long queues that critics dismissed as a farce, and some on Twitter dubbed the #ReesMoggConga.

The first vote that rejected keeping the hybrid arrangements took 46 minutes, slowed down by many lawmakers being uncertain what to do when they reached the front of the queue. A second vote to approve the government plan took 36 minutes.

“A total farce ... This is supposed to be a functioning parliamentary democracy, not a theme park,” opposition Labour lawmaker Afzal Khan said on Twitter.

Parliament Speaker Lindsay Hoyle directed proceedings with growing frustration, instructing each lawmaker to state their name and their vote as they passed his chair.

Normally lawmakers vote by walking through crowded lobbies and having their names ticked off a list in a process that takes about 15 minutes. That has been ruled unsafe - a risk of coronavirus contagion.

Reporting by William James; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Addison

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